Sweet Bean

2015, Japan/France, 113 min.

In Japan, doriyaki vendor (Masatoshi Nagase) lives in brooding isolation, running his small store with rote efficiency. When he puts up a help-wanted sign, he’s visited by Tokue, a meek, kindly, septuagenarian woman (Kirin Kiki) with gnarled, knotty hands. He declines Tokue’s entreaties to stop using vendor-bought, sweet bean paste between his pancakes—until he tries her homemade confection. They toil in the pre-dawn hours, perfecting the paste via ritualistic acts of washing and boiling and waiting. Tokue, who lives with older, recovered lepers in a remote complex, finds happiness in life’s basic pleasures: the blindingly white cherry blossoms that surround the shop; helping customers; finding freedom in creating a delicacy. Sentarô learns to enjoy the grace of a simple life, as exemplified by Tokue’s guileless, grateful ways, and learns to engage with the world that has run him down. Director-writer Naomi Kawase’s movie is an understated, powerful character study that shows how simple gestures of kindness can elevate our lives beyond parameters both inflicted upon us and self-imposed.